Highlights: Said and Done, Went Missing, Familiar, Over There, It’s Raining
For personal reasons best not dwelt upon, I find it psychologically difficult to write about Nils Frahm. But equally it’s an opportunity I cannot resist. Particularly since in many ways Spaces could well be Frahm’s quintessential album: these are intimate live recordings of old and new material, all effectively representing the full diversity of his music.
Nils Frahm is a German composer whose stark, technical minimalism manages to draw blood. He can draw it out of literally nothing, a trick best heard at the beginning of “Sad and Done”: there are fast-paced, pounding, Steve Reich like piano notes nibbling at your psyche, and then they get quieter, and you somehow hear a melody in that. The effect is so strong that when Frahm’s piano starts playing the actual melody - it sounds almost transcendental. It’s a long record (though can you say flawed?) and highlights are numerous: Nils plays my favourite piece from his best album (“Familiar” from Felt), he does a really good improvisation, and there’s even a 17-minute-long minimalist epic that goes from ambient noise to organ grandiosity to a beautiful barrage of piano notes.
It certainly helps that Nils Frahm’s music is exalted enough to be appreciated by admirers of Erik Satie (whose enticing, unfading spirit is all over mysterious mood pieces like “Went Missing”) or even Tchaikovsky (worth noting that Frahm was taught to play piano by Nahum Brodski, a student of Tchaikovsky’s last scholar), and gorgeous and ‘tuneful’ enough to be noticed by general public. A paradox (is it) exemplified by the fact that this year Frahm produced the debut album by Arcade Fire’s violinist Sarah Neufeld (Hero Brother, not too good).
Last year’s Screws was so insubstantial it barely existed, so it’s good to have 76 minutes of great, inspired Nils Frahm. As far as 2013’s minimalist music is concerned, Spaces can only be rivaled by Eluvium’s ambient classic Nightmare Ending (unreviewable). Although in terms of pure emotional impact – Nils Frahm wins hands down.